Driven by frustration over the open-air drug dealing at abandoned Pop’s Playground in Kensington, Laura Semmelroth walked into the Philadelphia Skateshop two years ago and asked owner Steve Miller, a total stranger, to build a skateboard park at Pop’s.
Semmelroth remembers that Miller stared at her “like I was a crazy person.”
She was wrong. Miller was staring at her like she was the cure for his own frustration over not being able to build a skate park at a rundown playground in his own Fishtown neighborhood.
This synchronicity between two stymied souls begat Pop’s Skate Space, which opened last summer on Hazzard Street near Trenton Avenue – testimony to the do-it-yourself power of ordinary Philadelphians with extraordinary moxie.
As temperatures hovered a few degrees above freezing this week, endless summer continued at Pop’s with dozens of young neighborhood kids and older teens – some of them in T-shirts, all of them oblivious to the cold – zooming over the surreal concrete moonscape of sculpted curves and mounds and hard edges as if it were July.
“There used to be needles and crack vials all over the place and people shooting up all day long,” said Chester Rein, 68, who has a panoramic view of the playground from the small garage he runs across narrow Hazzard Street from Pop’s.
Rein is so grateful that the new skate park turned a sordid drug market into a clean, cared-for, kid-friendly space that he lends the skateboarders his tools and helps them fix their equipment whenever they ask.
“Why should I mind?” he said with a shrug. “For years, I saw people shooting up over there. Now, I’m watching these great kids skateboarding all day long.”
Two winters ago, when Semmelroth, an economic-development assistant with the New Kensington Community Development Corp., walked into the Northern Liberties skateboard shop, Miller wasn’t sure Pop’s Skate Space was doable.